Growth & Grace Podcast Episode #11
EP 11: Is shame shaping your life?
First: shame VS guilt
This can be really confusing for some people, because both guilt and shame are both emotions that can feel and look really similar.
Researchers define it this way: Guilt means “I did something bad.”
On the micro level, I feel guilt when I’m trying to eat healthy but I buy up cake pop on my trip to starbuck.
People feel guilty when they make bad choices, commit a crime, hurt someone’s feelings.
Guilt is about behaviors.
Shame on the other hand, means “I am bad.” Do you see the difference?
Being “bad” means you see yourself as incapable of changing or doing better. In front of others, you feel exposed and humiliated, as if they can see your flaws.
Whereas guilt is a right or wrong judgment about your behavior, shame is a feeling about yourself. Shame and vulnerability researcher and author Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
Let’s unpack that. It is not just thinking, but believing that the very essence of who we are is flawed, wrong, broken...and because of that we don’t deserve to have love and acceptance and community.
Here’s the good news. Shame is a feeling and feelings are not facts. Just because you feel a certain way, doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t mean your feelings don’t matter. They absolutely matter, but they can also change. And that is really important to understand.
Ever human on earth experiences shame. If you feel shame in passing, like it hits a vulnerable spot - targets a weakness that doesn’t come up often, then you know that shame can be temporary.
BUT sometimes Shame can sink in it’s claws in and really grab hold. When that happens, it is hard to distinguish the facts from the feelings - especially if there have been real life regrets. People can lose hope and become unable to separate their behaviors with their being.
I have really seen this be true with people who struggle with addiction. I grew up with an alcoholic grandparent and my college boyfriend was addict. I have been in more AA/NA meetings, and family therapy days than I can count. I’ve heard the horror stories. I know well the pain that an addict can cause in your life. The chaos they create, the poor choice they made when they are not seeking treatment. I’ve been a victim of their poor choices, but I have also seen what the road to recovery looks like.
I’m not sure there is anything more beautiful than watching a person discover their worth- realizing or remembering that they have value.
One of the BIGGEST hurdles an addict has to get over is the hurdle of shame. I don’t think it would be right to have a serious about mental health and not talk about addiction for a few minutes. So I’m going to take a little detour, and then circle back around.
First, Addiction is a disease. I’m not here to debate it. I’m not here to justify it. I’m just here to share the facts. Addiction is a disease. It is diagnosable, and is usually found with a co-occuring disorder. Which means that a lot of peopel who struggle with addiction also struggle with things like depression and anxiety.
It is the psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug, activity, or substance, even though it is causing psychological and physical harm.
Addiction can destroy relationships, break trust, make someone do things they would not normally do, things they don’t want to do.
They are not dissociated with reality like with a psychotic disorder. An addict usually knows what they are doing. They know that what they are doing is wrong, and that it could harm themselves and others. But they are so consumed with their drug of choice, that nothing else matters. They aren’t doing what I would call the follow through. Everything we do impacts someone or something else...and is a healthy brain people are able to weigh out the pros and cons of decisions. They follow their actions all the way through, but an addict’s brain doesn’t do that. Instead they are only focused on the immediate relief they experience when they give in to the addictive behavior.
If substances are involved, it can take up to a solid year for the brain to start to undo some of the damage that was done during the throes of addiction...and sometimes there is irreversible damage. So it can take a while for someone to start to realize the things they did during their active addiction--and once that starts to happen-- the shame almost comes too much to bear.
That can be a big reason why people relapse. Their shame, that belief they are bad, unworthy, that no one really cares becomes too much to handle. It is more than guilt for the things they did when they were under the influence, but it is a shame that has damaged the core of their worth, destroyed their self-esteem.
If you want your heart to break, listen to the things an addict says to themselves on a daily basis.
And this is true for a lot of mental illness diagnosis. And that feeling of shame leads to more negative self talk, more isolation - depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders. Shame can be the root of a lot of these things.
The Impact Shame can have on our lives:
People who live with shame often avoid relationships, vulnerability, and community. Research shows that shame leads people to hide from community and friendship. They avoid vulnerability and never share their true selves with the world.
People who live with shame are prone to suppressing their emotions. Shame is associated with suppression of emotions, particularly in women.People who feel ashamed of who they are or ashamed of something that happened to them often keep their thoughts and feelings wrapped up inside.
I told myself I wouldn’t share this story, but I recently experienced this. Some of you may know that I’m a wedding photographer. A couple of years ago I had a breast reduction surgery, sorry if that is TMI. Well after that surgery, I wasn’t able to do any exercise for like 8 weeks. And during that time, I developed planters fasciitis. I don’t know if it was the change in my body composition or what, but I’ve now struggled with this pain in the arch of my feet for a couple years...and it makes it REALLY hard to do any real exercise. And if you know me, you know I LOVE a good zumba class. Because I haven’t been able to exercise, I’ve put on about 20-25 lbs. I swear this is going somewhere. Last week I was shooting a wedding, and my legs rubbed a hole in my pants. It was at the end of the day, and I don’t think anyone saw or anything like that, but I felt such shame. Y’all I immediately when and bought new pants, threw mine away at a gas station...and I haven’t even told my husband. Maybe this is a thing that happens to people, I don’t know. I had never happened to me. Granted my wedding day pants were a couple wedding seasons in. But I started to internalize that and immediately connected it to the weight I’ve gained.
That is a micro personal example from my own life. But this is also the kind of experience people have when they are sexually assaulted or in abusive relationship. They suppress their emotions and then keep it all bottled up inside. When the #metoo campaign came out about a year ago now I guess, people were saying...why wouldn’t you just tell someone. Well there are a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones is shame.
People who live with shame often feel worthless, depressed, and anxious. People who are constantly ashamed live out a difficult emotional and mental battle each and every day.
We already talked a little about how shame can be at the root of some of these mental health issues.
People who live with shame are more likely to relapse back into problem behaviors.
SO TRUE! Ask me if this week, post rubbing a hole in my pants last weekend, ask me if I made healthy decisions? Did I try to work out? No, because that internal dialogue can get us and we get sucked right back into old behaviors.
Research shows that people who struggle with alcoholism are more likely to relapse back into drinking if they experience shame. People who are ashamed of their behavior sometimes purposefully continue in that behavior because they don’t believe that change or healing is possible.
If you’re listening to this, and you’re struggling. Let me say to you right now CHANGE and HEALING are ALWAYS possible.
When we start the journey to joy and purpose, achieving the we dream about...it takes some serious inner work. It takes self awareness, pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Identifying SHAME can be key!
Okay, this has been really heavy. Let’s talk about some action steps. How do we deal with shame? What is the way out?
Therapy. My first answer will always be therapy! I think everyone needs a therapist, and we as a society have done a poor job normalizing seeking professional help.
Seek out relationships and commit to vulnerability with safe people. Do everything in your power to find community. Shame begins to disappear when it is shared in a safe place.
Realize that what you do and who you are are separate things. To get to the bottom of shame, you really have to separate those two things.
Move out of your head and into the open. Don’t keep everything inside. Put your shame out into the world. Write about the shame. Share your story of shame. Create artwork that represents your shame. Shame finds healing when it is taken outside of ourselves and placed into the world in some way.
Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly, “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives, If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.”
Develop self-compassion. Consider what you would say to a friend who was feeling the same things you feel. Begin to respond to yourself with love and care and concern, just as you would respond to others with love and care and concern.
Take one small risk. Attempt something that might end in failure. Do something that is difficult. You will either succeed and find hope that you can do more than you thought. Or, you might fail and realize that failure isn’t the end of the world. Either way, you begin to find healing for your shame.
Believe that healing is possible. Make one good decision in the right direction and see how you feel. Believe that you can choose to make good choices over and over again until your life is completely changed.
So yeah! There ya go. My big takeaways for today:
Shame is a feeling. Feelings are not facts.
There is always hope for better, for different, for change!
Community is KEY! Find people you trust and start to open up. You will literally destroy yourself if you try to keep it all up inside.
I hope this was helpful, and thanks for hanging out with me. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send me a message.
I’m still loving all your feedback! If you have time, I’d really appreciate if you could leave a rating and a review. That helps get the message out there.
Hope you guys have a good rest of your week, and I’ll catch you next time!